A couple of years ago, Focal – known for high-end speakers – came out with their first headphone, the Spirit One and it became an instant hit with the headphone crowd. While the Spirit One wasn’t cheap, it was portable, well made and sounded great. Focal has upped the ante with two new not-so portable models that go in different directions aesthetically and aurally. Focal states that the closed back, circum-aural (covers the ears) Classic and Professional were designed to remain comfortable over extended periods of time with memory foam ear pads and headband. The Spirit Professional is geared towards – you guessed it – the pro in the recording studio. The Pro was tuned to have total control of the audio band for precise and detailed sound reproduction, without distortion. Its design features a shock- and scratch-resistant textured black finish. The light chocolate-colored and bronze audiophile Classic headphone was tuned for listening at home with extended low end, detailed mid-range and linear top end for an open sound. The Classic is not as isolating as the Pro, but Focal says it’s not needed since they were designed for a quieter home environment without the need to mask surrounding noise. This quiet tuning also allows the Classic to avoid any boosted bass inherent in headphones made for commuting. The Focal Professional sells for $349 US and the Classic sells for $399 US. Both are available now and will be reviewed on The Gadgeteer soon. Stay tuned.
If you’re a fan of those mega-popular headphones that are endorsed by mega-stars, understand that you are adding mega-bucks to their mega-bank accounts. They aren’t lending their names to promote a headphone for free and the headphone company certainly isn’t paying for it; you are. It’s hidden in the cost. Okay then, what if you desire a pair of those headphones and the status they offer, but can’t afford them? Well, now you can have the status without the brand name with the new Status Audio HD One Headphones. The style is visually similar to the more famous headphones, but contain no logos or branding. Plus, they maintain the performance and features of headphones costing double, triple, and even quadruple their price, claims Status Audio. They’re coated in a rubberized finish as opposed to shiny plastic, have 40mm drivers and a flat, detachable, tangle-free cable with in-line mic with 3-button remote. The on-ear HD One is foldable and comes in three colors: Red (Marathon), Black (Jet Black) and Black with red trim (Classic). The Status Audio HD One headphones sell for an affordable $40 and will be available May 1, 2014.
Big. Bigger. Biggest. These words sum up the Braven 850 Bluetooth speaker. Braven is becoming increasingly known for their range of beautiful, simple and powerful speakers with unique traits that set them apart in this overly crowded speaker market.
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If there is one thing that’s indicative of the changing audio landscape, it’s the explosion of headphone and Bluetooth speaker choices. Just a few years ago, decent headphones were an expensive luxury and you could count the number of Bluetooth speakers available on one hand. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, countless portable speakers were introduced and to be honest, most are similar in features, sound and looks. Not Fugoo speakers. While the name alone might make one stop and pay attention, it’s the unusual features that set them apart. Fugoo offers three models — or more correctly, one model sold with a replaceable shell in three choices: Style, Sport or Tough. Each version has its own unique attributes, but underneath is an identical speaker. That speaker is dust proof, sand proof, snow proof and waterproof to three feet for 30 minutes. In fact, if the Fugoo speaker does get dirty, it can be hosed off. There are six speaker drivers — two tweeters, two woofers and two passive radiators for deep bass. The volume will go to 95dB, pretty loud for a speaker this size. Included is a 40-hour battery, which is way longer than what most other speakers offer. Also available are lots of accessories, such as bike mounts, straps, clips and remote controls. The three models are priced at $199.99 for the Style and $229.99 for the Sport or Tough. All are available now.
Anybody with an older car can relate to this: You have a smartphone with all the latest Bluetooth connectivity, but your car stereo is still oh so 90s with its cassette and maybe CD player. No USB. No AUX port. Certainly no Bluetooth… until now. Ion has made it possible for any Bluetooth-enabled device to connect wirelessly to any car audio system via its new Cassette Adapter Bluetooth. There is no complicated installation or wires or even tape. Just pop the cassette in, pair the device, and your music is now playing over your car speakers. Plus, any incoming call can be heard over those same speakers, resulting in true hands-free calling. Will the audio be audiophile quality? Nope, it’s Bluetooth. However, convenience should far outweigh any trade-offs in audio quality.
The Ion Cassette Adapter Bluetooth can add new life to old car stereos, which can be a big money-saver. Included are USB Charging Cable, manuals, and it’s equipped with a 6-hour rechargeable battery. Pricing and release date have not been announced yet.
Recently, I had fun reviewing two very different headphones made primarily of wood: the premium Meze 73 Classics and the budget Griffin WoodTones. Each had their pros and cons, and it was hard to tell if the wood — as cool as it is — had any real effect on the sound. As I said in those reviews, I’ve heard many excellent headphones that contain no wood. I’m not convinced of wood’s aural effectiveness when used in headphones. However, wood does look cool and it gives the headphones an aura of richness that no other material can match. That brings us to a company that not only offers headphones made of wood, but also has a global conscience. Each LSTN Troubadours headphone is made from reclaimed wood, which means no trees were cut down for the manufacturing process. Plus, LSTN donates a portion of profits towards funding hearing restoration through the Starkey Hearing Foundation, helping to spread awareness to the problem of hearing impairment and loss. In fact, LSTN claims that’s the only reason for their existence. Interesting.
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I will admit upfront that this review is way overdue. The main reason is because the Audioengine W3 Premium Wireless Audio Adapter is a product that is not easy to categorize. It performs some unique functions and duplicates some that are built into existing products. It’s taken me a while to sort it all out and to plainly get my head around it. Wireless audio can quickly become a complicated mess with all of its terminology and various solutions to problems. The W3 is yet another “way of doing things” and in some ways, I was not looking forward to reviewing it. I mistakenly thought it was more complicated than is actually was – plus, I was already comfortable with my audio set up. I was happy to just swap this speaker for that depending on what I was reviewing at the moment. Boy, was I wrong.
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In 2012, I reviewed the excellent – but incredibly expensive – Audeo PF232 earphones. What made them unique was that they had replaceable filters so anyone could fine-tune the sound to their taste. Well, anyone with super eyesight and steady hands, that is. The filters were so small that they required a special, hard-to-use tool, and if dropped, were almost impossible to locate. Spring forward to 2013, and Audeo has pulled out of the earphone market, but the idea of filters remains interesting. Torque Audio has taken up the mantle (sort of) with the new t103z in-ear-headphones. Torque calls their filters “valves” and has managed to make them uber-easy to swap depending on your mood. The question is; are they successful?
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It seems that many (not all) headphones fall into two categories; those that look fashionable and sound not so great and those that sound great, but you’d wouldn’t want to be seen in public wearing them. Then there is Phiaton. Their headphones and earphones are pure eye candy. Nothing looks like them, and while some headphones can best them in audio quality, they can hold their own quite well, thank you very much. The Bridge MS 500 headphones follow the Phiaton Moderna Series design ethos of black with bright red accents. At first glance, you might think that they are a bit too metrosexual looking for a macho man to be seen with. I thought that. But over time, I grew to appreciate the bold look. I can remain secure in my manhood wearing the MS 500 phones.
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When Julie asked me to choose five headphones/earphones that would make great gift ideas, I knew this could get interesting. 2013 has been a great year for portable listening, and the holiday choices are better than ever. There are many choices to fit any budget, so there is no excuse this year for putting up with sub-standard audio into 2014.
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As our society becomes more and more mobile – and wireless – headphone makers are stepping up and providing consumers with choices. Some of those choices are a new breed of Bluetooth headphones that provide a freedom that could only be imagined just a few years ago. Velodyne – famous for subwoofers – now offers the vFree On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones. Let’s rephrase that: Velodyne has come from nowhere and exploded with almost too many headphone choices with the vFree being just one. Their current selection is quite impressive. After reviewing the nice vPulse earphones and the massive vTrue headphones, I was anxious to see what Velodyne could do with Bluetooth. I was wondering if the audio quality would be typical Bluetooth (and all that implies). I was curious if the famous Velodyne bass would be there. I was … well, you get the picture.
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Over the past few months, I’ve been using and testing the Meze 73 Classics headphones. Meze is a relatively new company, and they have a niche that a few – but not many – headphone makers have: their headphones are made out of wood. While that’s becoming more common, Meze strictly uses ebony wood, which helps the headphone have a more natural sound… well, that’s what Meze says, anyway. I’m not entirely convinced that ebony is the holy grail of headphones. There are too many others that sound as good as these in the same price range, and they’re not made of ebony. However, one fact can’t be disputed: no other headphones look like the Meze 73 Classics. Each one has its own unique grain pattern, and they are also put together very well.
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Wow. In a recent news item, I stated how Braven isn’t taking it easy after a string of successful portable speakers by releasing the monstrous Braven 800 – a direct competitor to Jawbone’s BigJambox speaker. It’s only been a few days, but Braven went and did it again with the Braven 855s, an identical twin to the 850 with some important differences. The 855s is encased in a shock-absorbing water-resistant exterior, making it a wireless speaker for sport, travel, around the house, and outdoor activities. The technical specs are identical the the 850: Extended-range aluminum cone drivers with dual passive radiators, 20 watts output, Bluetooth v3.0, built-in internal speakerphone and microphone, 20 hours of continuous wireless playback, DTS SRS Wow Sound mode and more. Even with the cool looking water-resistant exterior added, Braven has kept the price identical to the 850 at $299. The 855s is available now.
Audioengine doesn’t know when to leave well-enough alone. Case-in-point: Their A2 speakers were just about the perfect size and rating for desktop use, and consumers obviously agreed because they have sold quite well. Even so, Audioengine figured they could do better, so they’ve introduced the new A2+ powered desktop speakers. These mini-powerhouses have been substantially upgraded from the original A2s, featuring an on-board digital-to-analog converter (DAC), upgraded speaker connectors, standard threaded inserts for wall mounts, an upgraded power supply, and accessory cables. They also include built-in 30-watt per channel amplifiers, USB audio input, hand-finished wood cabinets, and custom Kevlar woofers with silk tweeters. Since the A2+ includes a DAC, they can be connected using USB, insuring a total digital output resulting in a cleaner signal. If the A5+ speakers and D1 external DAC are any indication, the A2+ speakers should be well regarded. They are available now for $249/pair.
The Braven numbers just keep piling up. The portable Bluetooth speaker maker has introduced the 710, yet another model in their ever-expanding lineup. What makes this speaker different from the similar 650 is: NFC (near field communication) pairing with non-iDevices, true stereo left and right pairing using two speakers, HD audio drivers, and APTX Bluetooth. It is also Braven’s only aluminum IPX5 rated water-resistant speaker. This is now the best looking IPX5 speaker they offer. Like other BRAVEN speakers, the 710 is equipped with a built-in noise-cancelling speakerphone, is capable of charging USB devices, and keeps the 12 hour battery life of the 650. Braven is still selling the 650 for the same price, but if the 710 sounds as good (or better) than the 650, then the 710 is the easy choice for holiday giving. The Braven 710 is available now for $169.99 US.
One of the cool things about the internet is we can now easily discover new products from around the world without leaving our house. Being an audio junkie, I’m always searching for new and interesting gear. One search led me to France where audio company Aëdle (pronounced ā-duhl) hand-assembles a beautiful and minimalist designed headphone. It’s this attention to detail that makes Aëdle interesting and unique, because most headphones – regardless of where they’re designed – are made in China. Aëdle has two models: The VK-1 Classic and the VK-1 Carbon. The Classic is light brown leather with bright, brushed aluminum, while the Carbon has stealthy black leather with black anodized aluminum. Aluminum parts are sculpted one at a time from a solid aluminum ingot. The headband and cushions are hand-sewn using lambskin leather. Both headphones have identical technical specs: 40 mm titanium diaphragm with neodymium magnet and have a frequency response of 20 – 20k Hz with 0.5% total harmonic distortion – in other words, good stuff. Each VK-1 comes with a detachable cable and a travel pouch with airline and 6.5 mm adapters. The Aëdle VK-1 Classic and Carbon are available directly from Aëdle for $380 US plus shipping.
Computers and headphones are replacing the home stereo as the primary source for listening to music. Wireless speakers, Bluetooth, AirPlay, and a host of other technologies have developed and matured as a result. The external digital audio converter (DAC) also belongs in this group as a solution to the problem of lousy audio from desktop and laptop computers. Audioengine has taken the soul of their popular D1 external desktop DAC, improved the components and then crammed it into a new portable USB 24bit DAC called the D3. The D3 is the size of a thumb drive and sends high-quality HD audio from your computer’s USB port to headphones or any music system. The USB connection ensures a totally digital signal which completely bypasses the computers cheap sound card resulting in noticeably better sounding audio. The D3 also includes a high-performance headphone amp which can drive power-hungry headphones. It’s truly plug-and-play, requiring no software or drivers.
The D3 is ultra-portable and takes up almost no room in a travel bag or backpack. It comes with a carrying case and a 1/4” adapter cable for larger headphones. It will sell for $189 US and be available in time for holiday shopping.
Soundmatters has introduced a new speaker to compliment the original – and amazing – FoxL portable bluetooth speaker. The DASH7 is a thin, ¾ inch-high wireless pocket-portable Bluetooth soundbar and speakerphone that will fit into any purse or jacket pocket. Soundmatters’ Lee Adams states how amazing it is to get DASH’s performance out of something so light and small. “For us, it’s all about making REALLY pocket-portable systems. The DASH7 provides a larger soundstage, more detailed midrange and highs with bass that goes a bit deeper than FoxL,” says Adams. The DASH7 comes with extended range Bluetooth, AUX inputs, 12-hour battery life, built-in speakerphone with noise-canceling mic, and a subwoofer port. Also included are an international charging kit, cables, and combo stand/travel case. Three colors are available: vibrant red, arctic white and midnight black. The DASH7 sells for $219 US and is available now, although supplies are currently limited.
Soundmatters also offers the foxLO – a mini subwoofer available for either the DASH7 or FoxL that adds a full octave of deep bass providing even more depth to the audio. It sells for $149 US.
Interestingly, the famous Jambox adapted its tech from Soundmatters’ original FoxL, and the new Mini Jambox (a thin version of the Jambox) has internal components similar to the DASH7, although the DASH7 sounds significantly different, according to Soundmatters.
“It was the best of speakers, it was the worst of speakers”. With apologies to Charles Dickens, that pretty much sums up my experience with the Damson Twist Wireless Portable Bluetooth Speaker. To say that this speaker will surprise is an understatement. There is no speaker on the Twist speaker. Yes, you read that right. The Damson speaker has no speaker as we know it. It uses what is called incisor diffusion technology, which was developed and patented by the US Navy to transmit sound via their submarine hulls. In simple terms, it means that whatever you place the Twist on becomes a resonator, or speaker. And therein lies the dilemma: Some surfaces sound terrific and some, well, not so much.
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I’ve been a little unfair to NuForce regarding their NE-700M Headset earphones. You see, I received them last spring, and I haven’t done a review until now. One of the reasons is that other headphone and earphone companies have been releasing whiz-bang models almost weekly, and NuForce just kinda got pushed aside. Released a few months ago, the NE-700M may not wow us as the latest flavor of the month, but that’s what makes it special.
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You could say that it seems like every audio company is getting into the headphones business. Everywhere you turn, some speaker company has entered the fray, which can only make everyone better. And headphones have improved significantly in the last 5 years. A case in point is Japan’s Onkyo. This old and respected brand have released their first headphone and earphone models: ES-HF300 & ES-FC300 on-ear and IE-HF300 & IE-FC300 in-ear headphones. The only difference between the HF and FC models is the quality of the cable. The higher end HF300 has 6N (99.9999%) super-pure copper cable with a transparent covering. The slightly less expensive FC300 comes with a standard flat cable. Both the on-ear and in-ear cables are removable. Onkyo will sell cables separately, so you can upgrade the cable later if you wish.
The on-ear headphones feature padded, adjustable headband, leatherette earpads, and 40 mm (1 9/16˝) full-range titanium drivers encased in aluminum. Onkyo claims that the drivers are sympathetic to compressed audio formats without sacrificing sensitivity for lossless and 192/24 playback (that’s hi-res, folks). The in-ear phones feature a large 14.3 mm (9/16″) dynamic, or moving-coil-type, transducer. The aluminum/ABS resin housing provides exceptional rigidity, reducing unwanted vibration, according to Onkyo.
The prices are: On-ear: ES-HF300 – $179; ES-FC300 – $149. In-ear: IE-HF300 – $129; IE-FC300 – $99. All are available now.